As a fiction writer, I have to follow rules of believability. My plot and characters’ motivations have to make sense. I can’t yank the reader out of the story by making him stop, pause, and think, “That would never happen in real life.”
The ironic thing about this rule is that generally it doesn’t even matter if the thing in question does happen in real life. For example when I wrote Just One Wish, I originally had the cast of a TV show working over Thanksgiving weekend. I’d heard from my Hollywood sources that if a cast is behind schedule, they do indeed work over weekends and holidays. But my beta readers questioned the schedule so I had to change it.
As a writer, the whole truth is stranger than fiction principle can be baffling. People are continuously more stupid then I give them credit for. Here are a few real life things that make no sense to me.
1) People who willingly go on national television to air their dirty laundry and share the most intimately painful details of their lives.
If I didn’t know who my baby’s father was, I certainly wouldn’t want to advertise this fact. Ditto for my problems in bed, struggling marriage, or my children’s behavior that is so unruly I need Super Nanny to expose their flaws and my pitifully inadequate parenting techniques.
How does a person show up for PTA meetings after going on one of these shows?
2) People who record themselves committing crimes and then post the videos on the internet.
On one hand, I’ve got to applaud these idiots for helping law enforcement to incarcerate them. Carry on, stupid criminal, carry on!
3) Whoever invented and first invested in bottled water.
I am old enough that I remember the time when you had to physically pour water into your own bottle if you wanted bottled water. Really, it’s not all that hard. There is only one ingredient to this recipe. So when bottled water first hit the stores, I thought it would be a foolishly short lived idea. I mean, what was the original advertisement for this product? It’s just like the stuff you can get from your sink, only more expensive! Who would pay for that?
As it turns out, a lot of people. This is why I will never go into business for myself. I apparently don’t know a good product when I see one. Although lately I have been toying with the idea of marketing bottled air. It would be a great way to recycle all those used water bottle containers.
4) People who break into cages so they can mingle with carnivorous animals.
If the thing is called a Killer Whale, it is probably a pretty good indication that you should not dive into the tank for a social visit. And despite the fact that baby polar bears look huggable, a two minute search on the internet will let you know that polar bears eat seals. You are about the same weight as a seal and apparently have a close enough resemblance to a gray mammal with flippers that the polar bear is not going to be all that picky about eating you.
And last but not least 5) Road construction projects that take four months. One of the roads near my home is the victim of such a construction project. It makes me wonder what the men in the orange vests are doing on the days they show up–panning for gold? Excavating lost cities?
Fictional characters would never get away with being so slow for no apparent reason–but alas, we live in real life.
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